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DOCSIS

Charter Pays Networking Forward

Charter Communications Inc. is marketing a home networking service that will help tech-challenged or tech-intimidated customers hook up as many as five PCs. The catch? The service -- which includes the necessary equipment, a suite of PC security software, installation, configuration, and ongoing customer support -- costs an extra $9.99 per month.

Charter, which caps the downstream of its cable modem service tiers at 3 Mbit/s, 5 Mbit/s, and 10 Mbit/s, will use that fee to recoup overhead costs, including the cost of the installation and configuration truck roll. Charter's 3-Mbit/s tier, for example, retails as a stand-alone service for $42.99 per month. It drops to $29.99 per month for customers who take Charter's triple-play service bundle.

Charter kicked off the effort with a trial late last year and has begun to expand its availability since then, according to Himesh Bhise, the MSO's vice president and general manager of high-speed Internet. The MSO has been selling the service in all markets since March and is supporting it with a gateway from Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) that combines the cable modem with wired and wireless home networking capabilities.

Charter is the latest MSO to launch a home networking initiative. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), for example, has been marketing a similar service of its own for a few years. Comcast's iteration also offers networking support for up to five PCs.

Bhise says Charter's decision to roll out the service across the board stemmed from internal research indicating that a growing number of consumers want operators to help them install and configure their home networks. That trend is complemented by another that showed more than one third of homes have more than one PC. Although many early adopters have installed home networks on their own, other consumers remained intimidated by the technology and the costs of that technology.

A "large percentage" of customers surveyed by the operator said they were interested in home networking and getting such a service from Charter, and that served as a linchpin for the MSO's new service, which aims to "take the uncertainty out of the customer's mind," Bhise says.

Charter declined to say how many customers have taken the home networking package so far, but Bhise says the company has been pleased with the results in the early going. Charter had 2.5 million high-speed Internet subscribers at the end of the first quarter.

Charter believes a good portion of those customers are candidates for the new service.

"We're thinking that probably half of the people who do not have a home network today are probably considering adding it at some point, or are interested in it," Bhise says.

Although Charter's base home networking service will support up to five connected devices, customers are free to add more, but Charter won't manage those. But given the type of market that will be addressed by its new service, Charter doesn’t expect those situations to arise very often, according to Bhise.

To help customers keep track of their home networks, the MSO is using traditional cable modem troubleshooting rather than relying on CableHome, a CableLabs specification that enables operators to manage the home networks of customers. Cable operators have not deployed CableHome very widely, however.

Instead, MSOs are starting to take a closer look at the eRouter, a trimmed down version of CableHome that will enable connectivity for both IPv4- and IPv6-enabled Docsis modems. Unlike CableHome, eRouter does not embed firewall capabilities, and the customer, rather than the operator, configures the home networking device.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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